The Purpose of Black Crime (Afropessimism)

Afropessimism employs a psychoanalytic approach and argues that in the collective unconscious of non-Black people, Blackness is an object for their pyschic pleasure. This helps to understand Anti-Black violence. Anti-Black violence establishes the division between the Human and the Black in the collective unconsicous of the non-Black. And Black on Black violence is just another form of Anti Black violence, carried out by Black people.

What about black on black crime? we often hear. Well-meaning folks argue that Black on black crime is a myth. Black on black crime is not a myth, but actually serves the socio-economic, political and psychic interests of non-Black people. An Afropessimist analysis would argue that Black on Black Crime and especially Black on Black violence is is actually a form of Anti-Black violence. In this view, the purpose of Black Crime is to create and maintain a divide between Humans and Black people. This gives a framework with which to understand why there are so many White fans of Gangster Rap, Drill Music, etc – why black youth violence so enticing to non-Black people. Again, the truth about black crime is that it is a form of Antiblackness. 

Black on Black violence in the service of non-Blacks
Let’s talk about the Black on Black violence card. I played that card many many times myself during my Black Conservative, or pseudo-libertarian phase in 2016-17. With this experience in mind, I now call Black on Black violence is the Great White Hope of Black Conservative talking points. Larry Elder, Candice Williams, Jesse Lee Peterson and company think that Black on Black violence is the big problem for Black people, not anti-Black violence. But here’s the thing, what if Black on Black violence IS anti Black violence? 

As I mentioned in the last video, Amos Wilson was very clear in his view that Africans in the United States are not living their own lives, but are actually being used by others. Their consciousness is still a slave consciousness, their languages, social relations, food, clothing, religion, places they live, the totality of their existence is firmly rooted in the crucible of enslavement. Nothing has substantively changed since 1863 with formal abolition. 

In the Lecture Blueprint for Black Power, he goes on to talk about how this manifests in so-called Black on Black violence in the U.S. and how this is beneficial for White people, when he says (46:59 to 48:17):

every maladapted characteristic in the black psyche is there for white folk. It’s not purely there because they hate you, or they misunderstand you, or they don’t know who you are; it has nothing to do with all of that. When you analyze the so-called aberrations in the black personality, you must always ask the questions: What are their social functions and roles? Who benefits from this aberration in the black man’s mind? What are the social, political and economic benefits, and for whom? Who gains from this particular orientation in our minds? Then you begin to see why it’s there and what its function is. Thus every complaint we have about ourselves has a political, economic and social intent beneficial to white folk and detrimental to ourselves.”

Dr Wilson focused here on what you might call the exoteric benefits of Black on Black Crime for White people. You can think here of the Prison Industrial Complex, school to prison pipeline, the NeoColonial condition of African nation states and so on. All of these have very clear economic and political benefits for non-Black people. 

Afropessimists add to this by proposing another, deeper or esoteric benefit that non-Black people derive from Black violence and death. They do this by using a Psychoanalytic perspective, following the lead of one of their biggest influences, Frantz Fanon. 

The Collective Unconscious 
Afropessimists talk a lot about the collective unconscious of non-Black people. The following video gives a good succinct explanation of the collective unconscious: (00:00 to 01:55).  

One of these archetypes would be that of Human. As we saw in part one, Afropessimists argue that Black people are positioned outside or at least on the very edge of the category of human. They also argue that this demarcation between Human and the Black is created and maintained by violence. 

Anti-Black violence is a term used to describe the multifaceted aggression that has been aimed at Black people over the centuries. By violence is meant not just the direct acts of physical aggression, but also the wider structural forms. The following snippet from a video from Harvard University gives a good overview of different understandings of violence: (00:00:23 to 00:01:26):

Frank Wilderson says that anti-Black violence “produces.. the antithesis of the Human and, in so doing, also secures the coherence of what it means to be Human. It reproduces the knowledge that Humans have.”

So, in this analysis, Black people do not really face this violence due to anything we did and do, but rather than because the violence is required to continually keep us in the place of the slave in order to give coherence to the concept of human being.

Anti-Black violence as rituals of pleasure for non-Blacks
But it goes further than just the violence itself. It also applies to the depiction, photographing, filming and dissemination of this violence.
The murder of George Floyd earlier this year was but the latest example of a Black person’s murder being captured on cell phone video and going viral. When the wave of cell phone footage of Black men being abused and killed started taking off around 2013-14. I remember how these videos went viral. At the time it felt weird but I couldn’t at the time understand why. I couldn’t really understand why such violence was being shared so wantonly bearing in mind the huge psychological damage that is done to us when we see it. Afropessimism helps to explain what was, and still is, going on here. Returning to the Mail and Guardian interview, Wilderson explains: 
“It is as though the visual distribution of these images accompanies an increase in their occurrences, not vice-versa. We need to understand that anti-Black violence is not like anything else: these are rituals of pleasure and psychic renewal for the Human race.

“As David Marriott would say, these are rituals of self-fashioning; these are repetitions of death in real life and repetitions of death on the screen. They secure subjectivity for non-Blacks, because non-Blacks can look at them and say (albeit if only unconsciously) “aha”, if that were to happen to me, that would be because I committed a transgression; there would be something justifying that treatment. It would not be gratuitous, it would be contingent violence.
“Afropessimism helps us to understand that anti-Black violence is not a form of discrimination; anti-Black violence is a health tonic for global civil society. Anti-Black violence is an ensemble of necessary rituals that are performed so that the human race can know itself as Human and not as a slave, meaning not as Black.”

I see a lot of non-Black left wingers and progressives commenting on these videos, expressing their disgust and outrage about the senseless nature of the killings. “Why are these Blacks being targeted and killed like this?” they ask in passionate expressions of concern. Wilderson would say that while their concern may be sincere, on an unconscious level – these non-Black progressives are strengthening their sense of themselves as not Black, as not slaves.

I’m sure this analysis causes offence to many non-Black progressives, revolutionaries, allies. They are not used to the spotlight being put on them rather than on those evil right wingers. The key to remember is that this is referring to the collective unconscious. So it’s the shared sets of motifs, symbols, images that are inherited, as opposed to being based on direct experience. And also it’s unconscious. It’s below the level of conscious, deliberate attention. But it has very real material consequences. The idea is That Black people occupy a position of non-humans in order that the position of human makes sense. And violence is the way in which Black people are positioned as such.  

White Society and Violent Black Music
I’d like to bring this all together by discussing UK Drill music. UK Drill music started to get really popular and notorious. For those who don’t know, drill music is basically the latest incarnation of gangster rap. It is so nakedly violent it’s almost unreal. The rappers are usually also engaged or affiliated with actual street violence and they use their songs to openly threaten to stab and shoot each other, reminding their rivals of their body counts, all accompanied by videos where they swish and jab their hands in stabbing motions in a kind of weird death dance. As with previous incarnations of this kind of rap, these kids are overwhelmingly Black boys from various parts of inner city London and other cities. But it’s the reaction to drill by White society that I’m interested in. 

Just the as happened with UK Garage 20 years ago, the drill scene became the biggest existential threat to the security of the nation. There was “conversation” between White people about how best to tackle the scourge of drill-induced knife crime that was sweeping the city of London in particular. The Metropolitan Police went as far as removing a bunch of drill music videos from YouTube, and also banning one prominent group from performing a particular song live in a particular area of London. They did it anyway and were subsequently hit with an injunction. 
 The Left opined that it was unfair to target the music for the social problems that cause the crime. The Right blamed bemoaned that London has been taken over the Blacks, and railed against so called political correctness for preventing the Police from going in all guns blazing to deal with the rampant Black criminality. National newspapers fell over themselves to publish exposes detailing the depravity of these inner city demons. 

At the same time, just like with gangsta rap predecessors, if you look at the audiences at any drill music concerts, you’ll find lots and lots of white faces, and especially when the artist has “crossed over” from the underground into the mainstream such Headie One. These white folks seem to really enjoy Black violence and death. Going so far as joining in and singing along to these macabre murder hymns. What is going here? 

Afropessimists like Frank Wilderson argue that in the collective unconscious of non Black people, Blackness is considered something like a plaything. They pour in their psychic energies into Blackness to satiate or satisfy their anger, rage, disgust, curiosity, fear, loathing, terror, desire, lust, etc. In short, Black people are objects to be used by others to fulfill their psychic needs.

The key is to understand that what drill music is depicting sonically and visually is actually Anti-Black violence being carried out by Black people.  And according to Afropessimists, Anti-Black violence establishes the demarcation between human and Black/Slave in the collective unconscious of non-Black people. All of these players, the media, the Police, the politicians, the White drill concert goers are engaging in time honoured rituals that reaffirm what it means to be a human versus a slave, Afropessimists argue. 

As Frank Wilderson put it when commenting on Black on Black violence says in the Mail and Guardian interview: “It is Black people killing Black people, at the level of performance; but structurally, that is to say, at a paradigmatic level, it is really anti-Black violence being deployed, not by subjects (non-Black people) but through their speaking implements.”

So in summary, Afropessimism employs a psychoanalytic approach and argues that in the collective unconscious of non-Black people, Blackness is an object for their pyschic pleasure. This helps to understand Anti-Black violence. Anti-Black violence establishes the division between the Human and the Black in the collective unconsicous of the non-Black. And Black on Black violence is just another form of Anti Black violence, carried out by Black people.

Black People are not considered Human. Afropessimism Series Part one

This is the first of a short series of videos giving an introduction to an idea called Afropessimism. If you are not a subscriber to this channel AfricansArise, please hit the subscribe button and make sure to click the bell so you are notified of future videos, including the next few videos in this series on Afropessimism. 

This theory has apparently been all the rage for a few years now in academic circles. But I only heard about it earlier this year from my friend Kevin, who I did the Black Buying Power Myth or Reality video with a few years back. I recommend you watch video if you haven’t already, by the way! 

I have mainly engaged with the Afropessimism through its most famous or infamous advocate, a writer called Frank B Wilderson III. He’s written a memoir called Afropessimism, and has also been hitting the podcast and interview circuit heavily this year, 2020. In my series, I’ll be making lots of references to these, as well as other articles. I’ll always give references with hyperlinks in the description and blog posts to allow you to follow up. 

Willderson uses a lot of dense philosophical, academic terms and concepts which are not easy to get, for me at least. But what I’ll do is pull out some of the things that have jumped out at me about Afropessimism. I’ll say now that while not all of the ideas make sense to me or fully resonate, I think Afropessimism is a very important body of ideas for Black radicals, Panafricanists, etc. I hope that these videos will help to introduce Afropessimism to Black folks outside of academia. Ultimately, I want these videos to be a resource for Black people to apply in our own lives with the aim of furthering the quest for genuine Black liberation.

So, what is Afropessimism in a nutshell
I see Afropessimism as an effort to understand why other people treat Black people the way they do. It looks at the Arab and European enslavement of Africans and the gratuitous violence this involved. It looks at how this slavery and violence has morphed into a relentless, deep-seated Anti-Blackness which has psychic and political dimensions. They do all of this and much more and come to some conclusions that in my opinion are militantly Black-centred and revolutionary. I hope to bring this out in my video series. 

Black people versus Humans
At the heart of Afropessimism is the claim that, unconsciously and consciously – non-Black people do not consider us to be human. This will not be news to anyone who has studied the rise of the European project of modernity. One of the originators of the very idea of distinct human races was a Swedish intellectual called Carl Linneas who is referred to as the father of taxonomy – the classification of things in nature. A website called has a very good discussion called “Linneas and Race” which outlines how he classified humans. As the article explains:

“Linnaeus’ work on the classification of man forms one of the 18th-century roots of modern scientific racism.” He groups men into four kinds,  AsiaticusEuropaeus, Americanus and Africanus. Though the order changed over the various updates to his schema, “Africanus consistently remained at the bottom of the list. Moreover, in all editions, Linnaeus’ description of Africanus was the longest, most detailed and physical, and also the most negative.” He refers to them, as lazy, Sly, sluggish, neglectful and capricious.,later%20on%20in%20his%20career.

This helped set the trend for European race science, with revered intellectuals and academics such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant waxing lyrical about the inferiority of Black people. I’ll just mention one other notable figure – the nineteenth century German philosopher Hegel. Here are some nuggets taken from an essay entitled “Critical Notes on Hegel’s Treatment of Africa” by Omotade Adegbindin:

Hegel refers to “Africa Proper” as “the lad of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantel of Night.”5 He also holds that “in Negro life the characteristic point is the fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realization of any substantial objective existence.” Therefore, the African has not reached the level of realizing his own being; he has not yet realized his person. In Hegel’s words, the African is “natural man in his completely wild and untamed state.”7 From the Hegelian perspective, the African is still under the influence of nature. Hence Africa proper has no role in the world history. Until it attains the level where it can transcend the influence of the environment, at the minimal level of consciousness, Africa proper is unable to fit within Hegel’s philosophical scheme.”  

Even if you’ve never heard these actual words, the message will be familiar to you. It has echoed throughout Western modern history.  Today for example, there is a thriving online scene of so-called race realists who propagate the idea that Black people have a genetically determined low level of intelligence, and that this explains us being at the bottom of the social ladder almost everywhere in the world. You can bring up the monkey chants that Black footballers have faced from crowds at football stadiums across the World, for decades. Witness the infamous cartoon comparing Barack Obama to King Kong. There is a widespread and deep-rooted notion in European modernity that Black people are not human, or at least are right on edges of what can be considered human. I recommend a Washington Post article from 2019 called “A Brief History of the enduring phony sconce that perpetuates white supremacy” for a good overview of this rich tradition.

Slavery and humanness 
Linneas, Kant, Hume, Hegel and others were writing during the height of the European enslavement of Africans. It’s commonly said that this race science or scientific racism was designed to provide intellectual and scientific rationalisation for this enslavement. Africans were not human, so enslaving them was not an affront to humanism. 
This may well be true, but Afropessimists would argue that it’s deeper than that. They’d argue that it was (and still is) necessary to have slaves in order for the category of human to make sense. Without slaves, they’d argue, humanity would cease to be a meaningful concept. To quote from Saidiya Hartman, a major influence on Afropessimism in her book Scenes of Subjection:

The slave is the object or the ground that makes possible the existence of the bourgeois subject and, by negation or contradistinction, defines liberty, citizenship, and the enclosures of the social body. 

An analogy to this might be the necessity for foreigners to exist in order for nationals to make sense. Any group of people needs to be able to define itself against another group. If no other groups existed, then the concept of being, say, German would be nonsensical. So the concept of human needs slaves to define itself against. 

But if this is the case, what happened once slavery ended? Well, Afropessimists argue that although slavery was formally anbolished.   didn’t really end for Africans in the diaspora. This is a common theme in 20th and 21st century Black radical traditions. Many Black thinkers, writers, activists have emphasised the continuing nature of the slave condition for Africans. The For example, Dr Amos Wilson in his seminal lecture Blueprint for Black Power said this:

“We are still of the same consciousness; we are still in the same position because we are still servants of the white man. Our reason for being in America is to serve white folk and to generate wealth for them. There has been no change at all in terms of our relationship to these people. The values that we pursue are slave values —and the values of servants. The social relations that we create and interact with were built and developed during the periods of slavery. We have not escaped it at all. 

And Saidiya Hartman coined the term the afterlife life of slavery when she writes in her book  Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route:
If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery–skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment. 

Afropessimists argue that Black people are positioned outside of humanness because, again, humanness requires a fall guy. The World as we know it needs a foil. This will not change until the World as we know it us destroyed. 
In Part Two, we will look at Afropessimist analyses of Anti-Black violence which they argue is essential for the maintenance of this division between humans and Black people.